New technology helps farmers use water to maximum effectiveness
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
At the recent big Almond Conference in Sacramento, there were a lot of discussions on water use in almonds. And while growers are doing a great job in conserving, there’s always ways to improve, according to Larry Schwankl, UC Cooperative Extension Irrigation Specialist Emeritus. He shared with California Ag Today the take-home points of his talk in front of several hundred growers.
“We have been researching, ‘How much do growers need to irrigate?’ We want to make sure that their irrigation system are effective and that they know how long to operate it and then ways of checking to make sure that they’re doing a good job and utilizing soil moisture sensors and devices,” Schwankl said.
Schwankl also suggested that growers use pressure bomb to accurately measure the pressure of water inside a leaf. When used, it’s possible to measure the approximate water status of plant tissues.
In using a pressure bomb, the stem of a leaf is placed in a sealed chamber, and pressurized gas is added to the chamber slowly. The device has been calibrated to indicate whether or not that leaf is stressed for water.
“We can predict how much water the tree’s going to need, and we can predict how much an irrigation system is going to put on, but there’s errors in all predictions,” Schwankl said. “We need to go back and check and make sure that we’re staying on target. That’s where knowing the soil moisture and the plant water status really helps.”
Former head of California Farm Bureau Federation played instrumental part in many ag issues
California Ag Today enjoyed a recent conversation with Bill Pauli who farms wine grapes and Bartlett pears in Mendocino County on the North Coast.
Pauli was one of many that interviewed at the California Farm Bureau Federation’s 98th annual Conference in Monterey earlier this month.
Pauli served as President of the California Farm Bureau Federation during some very challenging times. “I started clear back in 1981 as a vice-president of the California Farm Bureau, and culminated with president in 2005.
“During that period, I was heavily involved with CALFED and the Delta issues, which are so important to us and for which we’re seeing the issues today with the Delta and water supply and water management and availability,” Pauli said.
CALFED was created because of the importance of the Delta to California. The majority of the state’s water runs through the Delta and into aqueducts and pipelines that distribute it to 25 million Californians throughout the state, making it the single largest and most important source of water for drinking, irrigation and industry.
“I was also involved in a lot of the worker compensation issues, because when Governor Schwarzenegger came in, that was the big issue, or rates and what we were paying. That was always the important issue for me. We had all the other issues related to labor over that period of time, along with the environmental issues that continue to expand.
It’s not news that California Farm Bureau carries the water for almost all the other farming organizations in many ways noted Pauli.
“The thing that’s so unique about the California Farm Bureau, and our county farm bureaus in every county of the state, is that we represent all of agriculture.
CFBF represents 450 different commodities for the individual grower all the way down to the local ag level in California.
We have the big, broad-picture issues, but there’s also the local issues that are so important to the individual producer,” Pauli said.
The Ciatti Company – a worldwide company headquartered in San Rafael, CA – has been in the wine, grape concentrate and spirit brokerage business since 1971. They are experts in the industry, and President Greg Livengood spoke to California Ag Today recently to give an update on this year’s harvest and prices around the globe.
“World supply is down a little bit this year from last. We saw some major weather events in the southern hemisphere to start out the year. … Starting in January in Argentina, we saw a fair amount of rain throughout the harvest. They were down a little over 30 percent from their three-million-ton average harvest and that really set the tone for South America,” Livengood said.
“Right behind that, the Chileans got going. They hit about the halfway point of their harvest when El Nino came and slapped them around a little bit. It rained very hard there – five major weather events – and their crop was down at least 20 percent, but in addition to that, they probably would have been down more, but they tried to salvage some of that fruit that suffered a lot of damage from the rain.”
According to Livengood, all of this may not affect pricing in California.
“It certainly helps to set a floor, a pricing floor, and that floor has come up,” Livengood said. “I don’t know that pricing necessarily will go in any direction here based on what happened down there, but … it’s a much more shallow dive that pricing could potentially take here if things go the wrong way.”
A real concern for California winemakers is actually Brexit – Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“ U.K.’s been a very good … market for wine. It is. They don’t grow a lot of their own so they’re buying it from everywhere else. It’s been a very good market for the U.S. The problem with Brexit is the economy. It’s the value of the pound, so the pound took a big hit when Brexit was announced. There’s concern it will take more of a hit. That decreases their buying power and that’s a concern for us here in the U.S. because our prices are generally a little bit higher than all of our competitors around the world,” Livengood said.
“We’re selling on the California name and we’re selling on quality and so as that consumer and as that retail buyer in the U.K. has less buying power, we do have concern that they may look for alternatives to California.”
Overall, Livengood actually hopes for a smaller crop worldwide because high crop yields in multiple years isn’t necessarily a good thing for the industry.
“You never want really long oversupply. 2013, worldwide, it was a bumper crop just about everywhere. We had too much wine in ‘14 and ’15 … and it’s taken us almost three years to really eat through a lot of that inventory. A shorter worldwide crop here in 16 is certainly something that we would welcome.”
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Group Educates Fellow Students About Cattle
By Joanne Lui, Associate Editor
If their attendance at the California Cattlemen’s Association’s 100th Annual Convention was any indication, the future is bright for the next generation of cattlemen and cattlewomen. We spoke to Veronica Staggs, a junior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, about why she’s a member of the Young Cattlemen’s Club and what they are doing to educate students about the cattle industry.
The club, which is a chapter of the California Young Cattlemen, has about more than 50 members, with both those who grew up on cattle ranches and many who just have a passion for livestock agriculture, Staggs said
Staggs, who is studying animal science at Cal Poly with the goal of becoming a livestock veterinarian, is one of those who doesn’t haven’t a background in cattle.
“I actually love cattle, but it’s a great industry to go into and to be a vet for because the people you work with are just so nice, and so genuine, and they’re so easy to work with,” Staggs said.
The prospect of working with cattle ranchers was a main reason that drew her to studying animal sciences.
“I just think that cattle ranchers are super easy people to work with,” Staggs said. “They’re super genuine. You can work well with them. They treat you like family, so I think being a vet for cattle ranchers would just be a super great job.”
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is well-known for a great agriculture program in general. The Young Cattlemen’s Club does their part to get to engage fellow ag students about the cattle industry.
“We do a lot of networking with people not a part of agriculture to show them what’s going on,” Staggs said. “And most of them are pretty receptive to it, and actually get interested in what’s going on and seeing how their food reaches their table.
Recently, the club even brought a calf into the student union to let people meet the animal and to educate the public about food animals. The Young Cattlemen also use social media to get their message across.
“We try to put a lot of information out there for them, because we think that it’s important for everyone to understand how food reaches their table and that it’s not just from a super market,” Staggs said.
Science Shows Increased Water Flow Doesn’t Save Fish, Paul Wenger Says
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
California Ag Today is continuing our coverage of the State Water Resources Control Board’s plan to take 40 percent of the water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers to feed into the San Joaquin River to increase flows for salmon. There is major pushback by affected farmers. We spoke with Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, at their 98th annual meeting in Monterey this week. He farms almonds and walnuts in that area, and he and his family would be seriously impacted; they would be forced into more groundwater pumping.
“It just seems the same old adage,” Wenger said. “If we put more water in the rivers, it’s going to be better for the fish. We know that it hasn’t worked with biological opinions. We know it hasn’t worked in the Sacramento, it hasn’t worked in the delta. We need to go after some of these other predatory species: the striped bass. They’re an introduced species.”
Wenger said there’s a lot of data saying that just won’t work. “The studies have been done, the science is out there. Just to say that we’re going to keep adding water to the problem [and] we’re going to get a different result is ridiculous. We have a finite resource of water today. We have growing needs for it for urban [and] foreign environmental flows, but also for farming and manufacturing.”
Wenger believes that the Water Board always makes rules quickly are not invested in the outcome.
“As I tell the folks, you come up with the ideas, but you’re not invested. You’re investing my future. You’re investing my resources, and other farmers’, but when we have these environmental groups say, ‘This is a solution.’ Why don’t you put your money up?”
In Face of Water Diversion Threat, Ag Industry Experts are Speaking Out
By Laurie Greene, Editor
California Ag Today has been reporting on the California State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) proposed plan to divert 40 percent of the surface water from the Tuolumne River and two additional tributaries of the San Joaquin River between February 1st and June 30th every year. The SWRCB plan is designed to increase flows in the Delta in an effort to help the declining smelt and salmon populations. Yet, these water diversions would severely impact not only the farm industry, but communities in the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts as well.
Ag officials say this is yet another threat to family farms in an attempt to protect the smelt and salmon. Farmers would lose a major portion of their surface water and be forced to pump more groundwater.
“Farming is not just a job; it’s a way of life for many of these families. And that livelihood, that way of life, is being threatened,” said Michael Boccadoro, president of West Coast Advisors, an independent, nonpartisan public affairs and advocacy firm that specializes in complex and often controversial public issues in Sacramento.
Boccadoro said the farm industry in the region is not sitting still while all of this is happening. There is a website, worthyourfight.org, that addresses this new assault on agriculture.
“It is worth fighting for,”said Boccadoro. “I was born and raised in agriculture, and I still think it’s a wonderful lifestyle. We need to protect it at all costs. This is starting to border on the ridiculous in terms of just one issue after another. . . This is not a “Mother Nature” issue; this is government putting these obstacles and these problems in front of agriculture, and that’s troubling.”
“We produce much of the fruits and vegetables and nearly all the nut crops for the entire nation. So, of course, we would expect to see significant amounts of water being used by farming in California,” Boccadoro said.
“It’s just reality, and for whatever reason, I think people have been misled and don’t understand this is just part of growing food. Like I have said, if you are concerned about it, all you’ve got to do is quit eating. It’s that simple.”
California Walnut Board To Raise Assessment for Domestic Marketing
By Laurie Greene, Editor
Dennis Balint, executive director, California Walnut Board; president and CEO, California Walnut Commission, explained to California Ag Today (CAT) the Board’s proposed increase in the marketable kernel pound weight assessment for the upcoming marketing year. The industry can comment until Oct. 17, 2016 at the Federal Registry website using the following link:
Balint:This proposed rule would implement a recommendation from the California Walnut Board (Board) to increase the assessment rate established for the 2016-17 year and subsequent marketing years from $0.0379 to $0.0465 per kernel pound weight of assessable walnuts.
The Board, comprised of growers and handlers of walnuts operating within the area of production, locally administers the marketing order. Assessments upon walnut handlers are used by the Board to fund reasonable and necessary expenses of the program. The marketing year begins September 1 and ends August 31. The assessment rate would remain in effect indefinitely unless modified, suspended, or terminated.
The Board derived the recommended assessment rate by dividing anticipated assessment revenue needed by estimated shipments of California walnuts “certified as merchantable.” The 553,000-ton (inshell) estimate for merchantable shipments is an average of shipments during three prior years.
Pursuant to § 984.51(b) of the order, this figure is converted to a merchantable kernel weight basis using a factor of 0.45 (553,000 tons × 2,000 pounds per ton × 0.45), which yields 497,700,000 kernel weight pounds. At $0.0465 per pound, the new assessment rate should generate $23,143,050 in assessment income, which is equal to estimated expenses.
CAT: So the Walnut Board needs to raise the assessment to generate more dollars in order to maintain the aggressive domestic marketing program the Board did last year?
Balint: We raised the assessment rate to satisfy the programs the Board wanted us to execute. Last marketing year, we did the first substantial marketing campaign in the domestic market. This year, we are repeating the program. The advertising is nearly identical; however, we did have a few new executions for print. Some of the details on the PR side are different. But essentially, it’s the same plan and the same budget.
To run that program last year, we were able to draw on reserve funds in addition to the assessment. This year, we did not want to draw on those reserve funds because we would have brought the reserve funds down to a point we were uncomfortable with. So, the assessment rate went up so we could run the same level of support without touching the reserve.
CAT: Like last year, will this year be a multi-million dollar campaign to really get walnuts on the radar screen for all U.S. consumers?
Balint: Yes. We know that about 22% of U.S. households buy walnuts. We’re trying to increase that amount. Actually, we’re trying to increase two things: the number of households that buy walnuts and the usage of walnuts by people who were previously designated as what we call “light users.” We’re trying to get a bigger slice of the pie.
In the long term, getting new users is critically important. The point we’re trying to make is, no one buys things basically just for price. If they’re already using walnuts, we hope they will buy more if the price is lower.
CAT: And for the people who are not buying walnuts?
Balint: Long term, getting people who are not using walnuts to start using them is the way for our industry to get stronger. Of the people who buy walnuts, about 87% buy them because they know walnuts are healthy. That’s their primary motivation.
CAT: You have spun out beautiful ads about how walnuts can enhance salads and enhance meals.
Balint: The print campaign this season is just a slightly different execution of last season’s campaign, but it is the same strategy.
CAT: And television can be very expensive?
Balint: It is, and it forces us to make choices; whereas, in print we have an array of print ads that cover an array of uses: salads, vegetable side dishes, entrees, appetizers, snacking out-of-hand. The theory is, if you have two or three pounds of walnuts in your pantry and you use them for a salad, you will wind up snacking on them.
CAT: How about digital ads on websites such as the Food Network?
Balint: When you look at the cost of digital, it is cheaper than television, for sure.
CAT: Do you know the value of different mediums?
Balint: In my opinion, what we really do not know is the value of an impression in digital versus the value of an impression in print magazines versus the value of an impression in television. No one has ever quantified that.
Balint: Frankly, I don’t think anybody wants to quantify it. It would be very difficult to get everyone to agree.
CAT: But digital seems to be getting more eyes than television.
Balint: The digital people certainly know that they are getting a bigger and bigger slice of the pie.
CAT: Is the consumption of walnuts in the U.S. still flat?
Balint: It has been. We have not seen the latest figures, but [consumption] has been flat probably for 10 years. If you look at the nut category this past year, the usage of nuts was generally down, but we saw a slight increase in walnuts.
We are pleased about that. We know nuts are healthy in general. Walnuts are more of an ingredient nut than our friends in the almond industry and the pistachio industry. They’re more of a snacking nut. We’re more of an ingredient nut.
CAT: Back to the Board’s proposed assessment increase; is it on the Federal Register and people can go there and make comments?
Balint: Yes, that’s correct, and the marketing order gives the Walnut Board the right to do these things. And, similar to the Almond Board’s recent proposed assessment increase, it doesn’t have to go to a referendum.
U.S. Senate Tells EPA/Army Corps to Back Off Farmers re: WOTUS Clean Water Act
Edited by California Ag Today Staff
A report issued TODAY by a U.S. Senate committee documents how federal agencies overreach their authority to regulate farmland, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF), which said the report underlines the need for congressional action to reform the agencies’ practices, particularly regarding the WOTUS Rule.
The report from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee describes numerous incidents in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have tried to expand their authority to regulate what crops farmers grow and how they grow them, based on the agencies’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act.
“A disturbing number of the cases described in the Senate report came from California,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said. “Farmers and ranchers here have seen firsthand that the abuses outlined in this report aren’t theoretical—they’re real.”
One case in California is particularly troublesome. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) ordered John Duarte, a farmer and nurseryman to cease farming his land after he plowed 4-7 inches deep to plant a wheat crop in his field. Duarte, in turn, filed a lawsuit to vindicate his right to farm his land. The U.S. Department of Justice fired back with a countersuit.
Duarte has spent over $1 million in legal fees to date, yet the government is seeking $6-8 million in fines and “wetland credits.” Duarte now faces a costly appeal and legal battle, the outcome of which will set precedence on important issues affecting farmers and ranchers nationwide.
Landowners’ concerns stem from a rule the agencies finalized last year, known as the “Waters of the United States” or WOTUS rule, which would bring more waterways under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Although a federal court has temporarily halted enforcement of the WOTUS rule, landowners and their representatives say the Corps continues to enforce the act so narrowly that, as a practical matter, its actions mirror the intent of the new rule.
“We’re grateful the Senate committee has highlighted the impact on farmers and ranchers caused by overzealous interpretation of the Clean Water Act,” Wenger said. “Farmers and ranchers want to do the right thing and protect the environment as they farm. But they shouldn’t be tied up in knots by regulators for simply plowing their ground or considering a new crop on their land, and they shouldn’t have their land declared off limits if they must leave it idle due to drought or other conditions beyond their control.”
Wenger called on California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to join efforts to clarify Clean Water Act enforcement and reform agency practices. “Congress has the ability to restore balance to Clean Water Act enforcement,” said Wenger. “We urge our California members to help farmers grow food and protect the environment, free from fear of overreaching regulation.”
The report releases findings from the majority staff’s investigation into how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers are interpreting and implementing their authority under the Clean Water Act.
“This new majority committee report demonstrates in detail that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, under the Obama administration, are running rogue,” Inhofe said. “Case studies in this report show that the Obama administration is already asserting federal control over land and water based on the concepts they are trying to codify in the WOTUS rule, even though the courts have put that rule on hold. Congress shouldn’t wait on the Supreme Court to make the inevitable decision that this agency overreach is illegal.
“This report should be evidence enough that it’s time for Democrats and Republicans to work together rein in EPA and the Corps. Over the course of the past year, 69 Senators – a veto proof majority – have gone on the record about their grave concerns regarding the WOTUS rule. It’s time to come together to protect farmers, ranchers, water utilities, local governments, and contractors by giving them the clarity and certainty they deserve and stopping EPA and the Corps from eroding traditional exemptions.”
The report summarizes case studies that demonstrate the following:
EPA and the Corps have and will continue to advance very broad claims of jurisdiction based on discretionary authority to define their own jurisdiction.
The WOTUS rule would codify the agencies’ broadest theories of jurisdiction, which Justice Kennedy recently called “ominous.”
Landowners will not be able to rely on current statutory exemptions or the new regulatory exemptions because the agencies have narrowed the exemptions in practice and simply regulate under another name.
For example, the report highlights instances where if activity takes place on land that is wet: Plowing to shallow depths is not exempt when the Corps calls the soil between furrows “mini mountain ranges,” “uplands,” and “dry land;”
Disking is regulated even though it is a type of plowing:
Changing from one agricultural commodity constitutes a new use that eliminates the exemption; and puddles, tire ruts, sheet flow, and standing water all can be renamed “disturbed wetlands” and regulated.
On Tuesday, Inhofe delivered a copy of the report with a letter to 11 Senate Democrats who, in a letter on Nov. 3, 2015 to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) on WOTUS, stated that: “Farmers, ranchers, water utilities, local governments, and contractors deserve clarity and certainty. Should the EPA not provide this clarity or enforce this rule in a way that erodes traditional exemptions, we reserve the right to support efforts in the future to revise the rule.”
In Inhofe’s letter to the 11 Senators, he said the new committee report should meet the test set forth in their Nov. 3 letter, and he called on the members to live up to their commitment and work with the committee on tailored legislation to end agency overreach.
UC Davis Postharvest Course Covers Food Loss, Produce Handling
By Lauren Dutra, Associate Editor
The 38th annual Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops Short Course concluded TODAY, June 24 at UC Davis. Presented by Beth Mitcham, director of the Postharvest Technology Center, the course focused on postharvest produce quality and safety.
“This class provided a really broad overview of all the topics that are relevant for postharvest handling of produce, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and also ornamentals,” said Mitcham. “We cover the crops that are grown in California, but because our audience includes a lot of people from around the world who want to learn the basics about postharvest handling, we also cover a few crops that aren’t grown in California for commercial purposes. Furthermore,”she noted, “we also address some of the latest technologies that are available for maintaining excellent quality,”
Maintaining a good cold chain throughout the entire shipping line is critical, according to Mitcham. “We talk a lot about temperature,” she elaborated. “In fact, we tell students the three most important things about postharvest biology and technology are: temperature, temperature and temperature. We discussed many other technologies during the week, but they are secondary to good temperature management,” she noted.
Mitcham also mentioned food waste and how to control it. “So much effort goes into growing the crop, which includes harvesting at the prime of ripeness and getting it in the pre-cooler, on the trucks and to the market. But, people buy it, put it in their refrigerator and then don’t eat it. It goes bad and they waste it. It does happen,” said Mitcham. “Our goal is to try to make the product as hearty as possible while retaining really good flavor so it can last in your refrigerator as long as possible but also so people want to eat it, so hopefully it doesn’t sit in there and degrade.”
In reducing postharvest losses, Mitcham commented on the dissonance between addressing postharvest flavor and consumer satisfaction, “In some ways they are two opposite ends of the spectrum; some of the things we do to reduce losses are counter to delivering good flavor to consumers,” she said. “We really need to do both, and that was a big part of our message this week.”
Clovis, Calif., August 14, 2014 Timely, relevant and important California agricultural radio news is now available for the first time ever –online, 24/7. Find it at www.CaliforniaAgNews.com.
Listen to the most comprehensive California agricultural news, updated continuously, on your smartphone, iPad, tablet, or any computer.
CaliforniaAgNews 24/7 includes the latest reports broadcasted on the CaliforniaAgToday Radio network, plus extensive in-depth interviews and reports, all presented to users in a state-of-the art, multi-platform format.
“CaliforniaAgNews 24/7 uniquely covers the state’s $45 billion dollar agricultural industry,” noted Ag News Director Patrick Cavanaugh, a thirty-year-veteran agricultural news reporter, often breaking stories.
“Our broadcast team is constantly in the field reporting news directly from farmers and other industry leaders throughout the state,” said Cavanaugh. “We also report relevant USDA news.”
“This new service will spread the word on what’s really happening in California agriculture during this severe drought crisis, worsened by federally-imposed environmental restrictions,” said Cavanaugh.
“In California, a major disconnect exists between the urban consumer and the farming community. CaliforniaAgNews 24/7 bridges the gap between the field and the fork; connecting the public to the land, resources, science & technology, politics and policies of California’s safe and local food, fiber, and fuel,” noted Cavanaugh.
“Hearing a farmers’ voice talking about how she or he provides a safe and nutritious crop will go a long way towards that city listener’s understanding of the farmer. On CaiforniaAgNews 24/7, listeners will hear, firsthand, about the concerns and challenges of farming in California – the leading and most diverse farming state in the nation,” said Cavanaugh.